Tribalism – shielding ourselves from an inconvenient world

Demonstration divided

This is so common these days. People use labels as a form of angry dismissal. ‘You remainers, liberals, leftists, feminists…’

It’s taking refuge in a tribe, using it as a structure to make sense of a world that stretches and inflames us. Tribes can be good, but not when they’re at war with the Other.

The internal process goes like this. ‘They are one of those people, and those people always say those things, so I don’t need to take those things seriously.’ It’s a way of draining power out of input that challenges our worldview or threatens to give us more thinking work.

It operates through a story of implacable opposition between Them and Us. ‘They’ will always oppose/badmouth what is good and right. What ‘they’ are expressing is not real thought, real concern, real fear.

Or it’s just a handy rationale for a ‘chimp response’ outburst to let off a pressure of discomfort-energy.

In UK politics a form of empty tribalism took the place of real ideas for the last few years. It was the Red Team versus the Blue Team, and political debate was too often framed as tribal warfare rather than genuine questioning of ideas. Even petitions crowdsourced from the public got painted by this dismissal tactic.

I was going to post this yesterday, but held off as news of an attack in London was coming through. One man killed and injured a number of people. Before there was any public information about him apart from a glimpse of a brown face, social media was full of the familiar frothing claims that Muslims would destroy the country and they should all be sent away.

Muslims are often the out-tribe, the blame-tribe, that people latch on to when things go wrong. Even if this man does turn out to be an Islamic terrorist, does that mean he somehow represents millions of people who never knew him?

I can understand the appeal of a worldview made of a small number of blocks, but it will never be a good model of reality. People are complex.

The point is, this kind of tribalism stops us engaging with the truth. It’s easier to wrap our energy up in the artificial conflict.

But there are many truths that desperately need engagement. What actually is going on? What kind of world and society do we actually want? What steps will we take to get there? That’s where the action is.

Reality continues down its path whether we show up to influence it or sit in bunkers throwing mud at each other.

I think most people don’t want to be frightened and angry, defending their territory against enemies real or imagined. I think they would love peace.

The only way to get there is to break the pattern, brave a little discomfort and join the tribe of Engagers.


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